The Fallacy of Safe Spaces
Read the flight to Egypt: Matthew 2:13-23
By Jules Gomes
A VOL EXCLUSIVE
January 4, 2017
2016 was the year students began demanding "safe spaces" on university campuses in the US. The safe space craze skyrocketed after the election of Donald Trump. Ivy League colleges like the University of Pennsylvania created a safe space where whiny cry-babies upset by the election could do some colouring, receive counselling, and recuperate with a puppy and a cat to provide therapeutic cuddling for shell-shocked students.
At Brown University, students found the idea of a debate between a leftist-feminist and a libertarian-feminist so traumatic, that the university had to arrange for a safe space stocked with cookies, colouring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies.
In most universities across America, students began wearing safety pins to show that it was 'safe' to hang out with them. Ben Shapiro, one of America's most famous talk show hosts, has since been poking fun at the infantilisation of university students. Whenever invited to speak at a prestigious university, he takes with him a packet of safety pins and asks if anyone in the audience needs a safety pin. Mr Shapiro then pulls out a diaper from underneath the podium and embarrasses the students by asking them if they would also like a diaper to go with their safety pins.
2016 was also the year of "Generation Snowflake." The word "snowflake" became popular in the media to characterise a generation of young adults who have been mollycoddled to such an extent that they cannot deal with views that challenge them. They are so fragile that they lack any emotional resilience. They demand to live in the artificial world of safe spaces, not recognising that the real world is actually a very dangerous place. "Snowflake" was one of Collins Dictionary's 10 words of the year for 2016.
Christmas is a safe space. We are safe in the manger with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. We are safe in church singing "Silent Night, Holy Night." We are safe in holy huddles exchanging greetings and gifts. We are safe with family members enjoying our Christmas turkey with trimmings. We are safe with the idea that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
There is a problem with safe spaces. The Bible is impatient to get us out of our safe spaces. The church is quick to shoo us out of our safe spaces. God does not want his people to become snowflakes inhabiting safe spaces. The church does not want us to be Christians wearing safety pins and diapers. For this reason, since very early days, both Western and the Eastern churches celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents (or Childermas) in the octave of Christmas, soon after Christmas Day.
In medieval England, right up to the 17th century, parents reminded children of the mournfulness of the day by whipping them in bed in the morning. While not recommending this rather unorthodox practice, it would certainly help children to understand that this world is not a safe space for followers of the Lord Jesus. In fact, this world was not a safe space even for the Lord Jesus, who created this world by the power of his Word.
Even God has no safe spaces. God incarnate in human flesh in the person of Jesus ben Joseph has to flee from an earthly king. God restrains himself from intervening and halting the slaughter of children as Herod violates the safe space in the manger turning Bethlehem and its surroundings it into a dangerous space for baby boys below the age of two.
Herod is out to destroy Jesus. The Greek word used here is not 'kill' but 'destroy'. In the book of Revelation, we will learn of another destroyer whose name is Apollyon--the word itself means the Destroyer. Apollyon is another king; he is the devil himself (Rev (9:11). From the very beginning, the devil is seeking to destroy God's plan of salvation by destroying the Saviour of the world. Even God has no safe space where he can permanently hide and escape the cosmic battle with the devil. God is warring against the devil even in heaven, the book of Revelation tells us, and until God's final judgement, even heaven is not a safe space.
There is, however, a temporary safe space for Jesus on earth. The angel asks Joseph to flee to Egypt with Mary and the child. In the history of Israel, Egypt functions as a safe space. In the book of Genesis, the children of Israel--Jacob and his sons--flee to Egypt when there is a famine in the land of Canaan. However, Egypt is only a temporary safe space. When a new king ascends to the throne, he feels threatened by the exponential demographic growth of the Israelites.
The safe space of Egypt where the children of Israel have prospered greatly now becomes a dangerous space where the king of Egypt threatens the future of the entire Israelite race with ethnic cleansing. There are no permanent safe spaces for God's people.
Just as Egypt in the Old Testament was never going to be a permanent safe space for the Israelites, so also Egypt in the New Testament is not going to be a permanent safe space for Joseph, Mary and Jesus. When Herod dies in 4 BC, an angel appears to Joseph and asks him to return to Israel. Nevertheless, when Joseph returns to Israel, he discovers to his horror, that even after the death of Herod, it is not a safe space for the family.
Matthew tells us that Joseph is afraid to go back to Judea because Archelaus is now ruler in place of his father. Archelaus was a dictator who massacred three thousand people when he became king. His brutality became so intolerable that his people complained and he was deposed by Rome in AD 6.
Joseph takes Jesus and Mary and goes to Galilee. This is a relatively safer space because Herod Antipas is ruling Galilee. So is Galilee under Herod Antipas going to be a permanent safe space for Jesus of Nazareth? Not really. When Jesus begins his ministry Herod Antipas wants to kill Jesus. The father wanted to kill the infant Jesus. The son wants to kill the adult Jesus. There are no permanent safe spaces even for the Son of God. In Luke's gospel, some Pharisees come to Jesus and tell him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you" (13:31). Herod Antipas kills John the Baptist by beheading him. Finally, just before Jesus is tried before Pontius Pilate, Herod and Pilate plot together against him. 'Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been at enmity with each other' (Lk 23:12). From the time he is born till the time he dies on the cross, the Son of God has no permanent safe space.
The story of safe spaces in the Bible does not end with Jesus and Herod Antipas. The first half of the book of Acts has a third Herod (1--12). His name is Herod Agrippa I. He executes James the brother of John and arrests Peter (Acts 12:1ff). Herod continues to persecute the church. Now, the followers of Jesus have no safe space under Herod Agrippa I.
The second half of the book of Acts (13--28) has a fourth Herod. His name is Herod Agrippa II. The apostle Paul is imprisoned and brought before Herod Agrippa II. Just as there were no permanent safe spaces for Joseph, Mary and Jesus, so there are no permanent safe spaces for the followers of Jesus. Just as there were no permanent safe spaces for the Son of God, so there are no permanent safe spaces for those called to be sons and daughters of God.
Many people join the church thinking it is a safe space. Ironically, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church promoted the concept of "safe spaces" even before it was used by snowflake students at universities! While he was Dean of Liverpool, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was famous for parroting the slogan that Liverpool Cathedral was "a safe space to do risky thinks."
Contrary to Welby's snowflake ecclesiology, Christians who are being persecuted in Islamic countries will tell us that the church is the most dangerous space on earth. But then, God is not calling us to be whiny cry-babies or precious snowflakes or infantilised adults who need diapers and safety pins. God is calling us to grow up, to be mature and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
There is only one safe space for God and for God's people. That is the New Jerusalem that God himself will usher in at the end of history. The book of Revelation very clearly tells us that there will be no room for the 'cowardly'--the snowflakes, and the infantile in that new city. Let us pray that 2017 will be a year of real spiritual growth, maturity and transformation.
The Rev'd Dr Jules Gomes BA BD MTh PhD (Cantab), is pastor of St Augustine's Church on the Isle of man. He is an occasional commentator for VOL
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